Chinese officials have begun an unprecedented attempt to test 11 million people for COVID-19 in just 10 days.
Plans for the gargantuan feat came about earlier this week after officials in Wuhan—the capital city of China’s central Hubei province where the pandemic first began in January—identified a cluster of six new cases over the past weekend. The cluster included an 89-year-old symptomatic man and five asymptomatic cases, all of which lived in the same residential community.
The six cases were the first detection of new infections in more than a month in the hard-hit city—and government officials aren’t taking any chances when it comes to thwarting a dreaded second wave of infections. They quickly announced a plan to test all residents of the city, which number roughly 11 million.
It’s unclear if the government can gather enough test kits and arrange test site logistics in that time frame. Even if they excluded people who had recently been tested, the city would still have to test at least 730,000 people a day, state media reported. The current testing capacity in the city maxes out at 100,000 tests a day, the media noted.
According to reporting by the New York Times, the city plans to do testing on a staggered, neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Government notices for testing sites went out through social media, paper fliers, and announcements on loudspeakers.
One post on social media read: “A nucleic acid test is your responsibility to yourself, your family and society… Please support and cooperate.” Another notice urged residents to “leave no one behind” in the effort to test everyone.
The Times reports that the city has set up rows of tents in the first neighborhoods and social media posts show pictures of dozens of residents standing in safely-spaced lines to get swabbed by medical workers in full protective gear.
The government is reportedly targeting elderly communities, densely-populated neighborhoods, and neighborhoods with rural migrants in the first wave.
But the Times noted there were reports of confusion in some districts for how to get residents tested. And it’s unclear if medical companies can keep up with the demand for test kits during the 10-day campaign. Also, some residents were concerned or angry about having to go to testing centers, possibly risking an exposure. Though lockdown measures lifted weeks ago, some residents continue to largely stay in. And while the heoric feat marches on, at least one infectious disease expert is skeptical that it is necessary, saying in a television interview that the city should instead focus on “key areas and key groups.”